Sheila Sonenshine

Hon. Sheila Prell Sonenshine (Ret.)

Case Manager
Lisa Abrantes
T: 619-237-0801
F: 619-236-9032
5 Park Plaza, Suite 400, Irvine, CA 92614


With 40 years of experience as a mediator and arbitrator, business person, justice, judge, and advocate, Hon. Sheila Prell Sonenshine (Ret.) is singularly experienced to resolve employment-related disputes.

As owner of an international investment banking firm, federally chartered bank, and law firm, she employed hundreds throughout her career in various capacities and industries.

On the Court of Appeal, Justice Sonenshine authored scores of pivotal employment law cases concerning covering virtually every area of employment disputes.

Justice Sonenshine’s thorough understanding of the law and ability to facilitate communication among the parties and to manage elevated emotions often accompanying such cases enable her to resolve the most complex and sensitive employment mediations.

As an arbitrator, her knowledge of the law, command of the process, and demonstrated fairness result in appropriate, timely, and well-reasoned awards.

Clients praise Justice Sonenshine’s meticulous preparation and dedication until resolution of their matters.


  • ADR
    • Highly experienced with all types of employment cases
    • Versatile in handling cases of varying complexity, from single sessions to multi-day mediations and arbitrations
    • Adept with cases involving international companies
    • Recognized for her skill in handling highly emotional and sensitive matters
    • Efficiently administers neutral evaluations, mock trials, appellate review, and mediations and arbitrations for appellate-level matters
    • Brings a rare combination of business, legal, and judicial experience to every employment matter
  • Business
    • Founded an international investment banking firm with 400 employees
    • Founded a federally chartered bank
    • Formed Sonenshine Enterprises, which invested in a number of women-led companies and served as a trusted advisor to numerous female entrepreneurs
    • Experienced in hiring, training, and setting expectations and goals in an international business setting
  • Legal and Judicial
    • One of four original justices appointed to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Three
    • Served for 17 years and inaugurated California’s first appellate mandatory settlement program establishing an ongoing process that settled almost 50% of the Court’s civil caseload; Justice Sonenshine achieved an 85% settlement rate
    • One of the youngest appointments made to the Superior Court and Court of Appeal
    • Established her own law firm upon graduation from law school, utilizing her trial, negotiation, and settlement skills

Representative Matters
Justice Sonenshine has resolved all types of employment law cases:

  • Breach of Employment Contracts
    • SEC licensed securities firm's failure to pay bonus compensation and severance
    • International accounting firm's breach of employment contract
    • Employment disputes between religious organizations and clergy employees (Schmoll v. Chapman University (1999) 70 CA 4th 1434)
  • Compensation
  • Disability
    • City employee eligibility for disability benefits after five years of service
    • Illnesses that qualify as a disability
    • Discrimination claim under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and individual liability of supervisory personnel (Le Bourgeois v. Fireplace Manufactures (1998) 68 CA 4th 1049)
    • Definition of “disability” or “disabled” under Ed. Code section 22122 (Wolfman v. Board of Trustees of Teachers’ Retirement (1983) 148 CA 3d 787)
  • Employee Benefits 
    • Retired county employees’ health benefits (Gov. Code section 53205.2) (OC Employees Assoc. v. County of Orange (1991) 234 CA 3rd 833)
  • Employee Defamation
    • Employee defamation actions after unfavorable performance evaluation (Jensen v. Hewlett-Packard (1993) 14 CA 4th 958)
  • Harassment & Discrimination
    • Supervisory personnel ADA discrimination liability
    • Summary Judgment for employer because employer appropriately responded to harassment complaint and no triable issues of fact
    • Sexual orientation harassment and failure to prevent discrimination claims
    • Age
    • Gender 
    • Sexual harassment allegations from longtime employee against employer
  • Labor Codes
    • Labor Code Section 3602 exclusive remedy/ whether employer fraud permits other actions
  • Sick Leave & Time Off
    • Accrued sick leave and commencement of retirement benefits (Mahler v. City of Buena Park (1991) 1 CA 4th 705)
  • Wrongful Termination / Individual Liability 
    • Employer and employee supervisor named in action after demotion; failure to name in administrative complaint (Saavedra v. Orange County Consolidated Transportation Service Agency (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 824)
    • LMR and Disclosure Act preempt employee's wrongful discharge
    • Wrongful termination and violations of general public policy
    • Wrongful discharge action against a union and elected official and preemption of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (Tyra v. Kearney (1984) 153 Cal.App.3d 921)
    • Deputy city clerks serve at pleasure of city clerk and could not acquire property rights to job pursuant to city resolution (Moore v. City of Orange1(985) 174 CA 3d 31)
  • Class Action
    • Wage and hour; meal and rest periods; business related expenses reimbursement; overtime; formatted wage statements
  • Constructive Discharge
    • (Casenas v. Fujisawa (1997) 58 CA 4th 101)
  • Hostile work environment
  • Work related injuries
    • Suit against employer manufacturer of equipment which injured employee
    • Exclusionary provisions of Labor Code section 3602 et seq. and employer’s fraudulent concealment of the existence and cause of employee’s injuries (Hughes Aircraft v. Purifuy (1996) 44 Cal. App. 4th 1790)
  • Employee’s right to Privacy
    • Employment records in malpractice action (Saddleback Community Hospital v. Superior Court of Orange (1984) 158 CA 3d 206)
  • Exhaustion of administrative remedies
  • Franchisees/Franchisor
    • Franchisee is independent contractor in wrongful death action seeking to hold franchisor vicariously liable (Cislaw v. Southland Corp. (1992) 4 CA4th 1284)
  • Vicarious liability/Respondeat Superior 
    • Vicarious liability of employer for employee’s accident when employee was driving children to work prior to business call (Elder v. Rice (1994) 21 CA 4th 1604)
    • Sexual abuse allegations against clergy and religious order (Tietge v. Western Province of Servites (1997) 55 CA 4th 382)
    • Action against church by child sexually molested by Sunday school teacher (Jeffrey E. v. Central Baptist Church (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 718)
    • Gov. Code section 821.6 (prosecutorial immunity) provides absolute immunity for county and employee where guardian ad litem and child sue for negligence, false imprisonment and constitutional rights violations

Bar Associations, Affiliates and Other Professional and Pro Bono Groups

  • Recipient of the Project Youth OCBF Volunteer Excellence Award, Project Youth Orange County Bar Foundation, 2019
  • Named one of Loyola Law School's 50 Inspirational Alumni, 2014
  • First recipient of Justice David G. Sills Award for Appellate Excellence, Orange County Bar Association Appellate Law Section, 2011
  • Robert Samuel Barnes Award, Orange County Bar Foundation, 2006
  • Marcus Kaugman Jurisprudence Award, Anti-Defamation League, 2004
  • Founder and Chair, Sonenshine Pro Bono Reception, 1995-present
  • Franklin G. West Lifetime Achievement Award, Orange County Bar Association, 1995


  • Member: International Women's Forum/The Trusteeship, The Anti-Defamation League of Orange County and Long Beach's Regional Board
  • Past Member: The Orange County Performing Arts Center Board of Directors
  • Speaker for educational, legal, and business groups, as well as a contributing author on topics relating to law, business, and finance

Family Law

  • Service to Family Law Award, American Bar Association Family Law Section, 1993
  • Family Law Person of the Year, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 1993
  • Jurist of the Year, State Bar of California Family Law Section, 1991


  • Principal in Sonenshine Enterprises since 2004. In that capacity, she has invested in a number of women-led companies, and served as a trusted advisor to numerous female entrepreneurs
  • Co-Founder and Executive Managing Director, EquiCo (subsequently RSM EquiCo after being acquired by H&R Block in 2001), now known as McGladrey Capital Markets, 1999-2004
  • Associate Justice, California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, 1982-1999
  • Judge, Orange County Superior Court, 1981-1982 (Presiding Judge, Family Law Panel)
  • Private law practice, Newport Beach, 1971-1981
  • J.D., Loyola School of Law, 1970 (St. Thomas More Honor Society)
  • B.A., Economics, University of California, Los Angeles, 1967

Counsel Comments

    • "Sheila Sonenshine is the absolute best settlement officer I have ever seen. She is knowledgeable and always fully prepared. Moreover she is practical and understands the goal of dispute resolution is to get all parties to believe they have made the best overall decision they can make, taking possible outcomes into account." 

      - Appellate Counsel
    • “Justice Sonenshine’s tenacity, business background, and common sense hands-on approach make her stand out among neutrals.” 

      - Legal strategist and former Sr. Vice President and General Counsel of one of the largest private real estate and development companies in the United States
    • "Justice Sonenshine has the experience, objectivity, and common sense to cut to the heart of an employment dispute and get the parties there with her."
    • "She put the lawyers, and the parties, in their place, and with tenacity, unmatched knowledge of the law and a presence that can only be described as breathtaking, gave us hope that we could actually settle a case where the parties could not have been further apart. Without her tireless assistance, exceptional mediation skills and unbridled commitment, there is no way this case could have settled."



Practice Areas

Available nationwide


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